One morning, in a coffee bar in North London, Lewis Black,
a boy with a record of violence, beats up another boy. Black
takes refuge in a basement record shop owned by John Owen, a
man with a terrible secret, and his daughter Charlotte. These
three people meet in the crisis of their lives, and their fears
explode in the chaos of one day.
JANE ARDEN'S PLAY, "The Thug," is this Sunday's
Armchair Theatre production. The play, which ranges between the
raucous, flowing life of a coffee bar and the backwater of a
far from prosperous record shop, is set in London, but it could
be any big city. And the time is the immediate, pulsing present.
Charlotte (Sheila Allen) is a
sad girl, hiding away from life in her father's dingy basement
record shop in a drab part of London. Brought up in sheltered,
well-regulated respectability, Charlotte is timid of the changing
world and cleaves to the basement refuge, to the familiar background
with its outmoded ideas, and to the photograph album that has
become a symbol of safety. But most of all she clings to her
father (Ian Hunter), shutting her eyes to his own heavy anxieties.
He encourages Charlotte to make
friends with people of her own age. They live, he thinks, like
two moles hidden away from everything. while across the road
is the urgent vitality of the coffee bar, peopled with a mixed
crowd of boys and girls -- a cross-section of local youth, good,
bad and indifferent, boisterous and subdued. But Charlotte is
afraid of these strangers. Besides, they might laugh at her limp.
three of the youths call at the shop. Among them is Lewis Black
(Alan Bates), a restless boy whose brushes with authority are
little more than defiance and an unconscious kicking out against
a society that he feels has somehow failed him.
In the play are seen the events
that make Charlotte and Lewis and his friend Jackie (Ian Hughes)
start, at last, to grow up. Lewis has no stable background, no
outlet for expression. "There are many Lewis Blacks in the
world," says Jane Arden, whose insight into the unhappy
background of her characters stems from first-hand experience.
"There is a pool of these
people outside normal society," she said. "I moved
among them myself for several months once. They are strays from
the herd, boys who feel vaguely neglected and are groping pathetically
for something, without knowing what.
"They are sensitive and intuitive,
but inarticulate. They have no outlet -- no way of expressing
themselves. So, inevitably, their vitality gets out of hand and
is mistaken for premeditated hooliganism. Lewis Black is really
no more a thug than he is a Teddy Boy.
"The Teddies hide behind
their own uniformity. It gives them a false sense of security."
Scarlet stockings, a violet dress
and lively, lucid talk are the outward marks of Jane Arden's
colourful personality. Married to the play's director, Philip
Saville, Jane says of their working partnership, "After
nine years of marriage, we have the tremendous advantage of a
mental shorthand that saves endless discussion. Philip understands
so quickly what I'm getting at."
She, in turn, writes with warm
understanding, and with a sense of exploring human relationships
and personal conflict.
This is Sheila Allen's second
leading part under Philip Saville's direction. She was in "Boy
With the Meat Axe" at the end of last year. He saw her first
at the London Studio, where actors and actresses met between
jobs to keep in trim professionally and to exchange ideas. |||
Reviewed in The Times Monday, 16 February 1959, unsigned
"Dynamic Divorced from Theme"
In "The Thug,"
presented last night in A.B.C.'s television series "Armchair
Theatre," Miss Jane Arden returns to the theme of withdrawal
from society and the barrier between the generations which pervaded
her earlier work "The Party."
But the main dynamic of the play
is barely related to its theme; and if one has to isolate the
chief flaw in this alternately powerful and infuriatingly arbitrary
piece of work, that is it. Charlotte is a lame girl who keeps
a gramophone record shop with her father; she has grown so dependent
on him and so frightened of the outer world that he dare not
tell her that the business is nearly bankrupt and that he has
only a few months to live. The task of the action is to bring
about a climax in which he can speak the truth and enable her
to sever her ties with the past. To bring this about Miss Arden
introduces a catalyst -- the thug -- who proceeds to monopolize
Across the road from the shop
is a coffee bar which is the meeting place of Lewis, the thug,
and his friends in Slim Jim ties and leather jackets. Both Miss
Arden and the producer, Mr Philip Saville, expended much effort
in attempting to establish their close-knit society; but in spite
of mobilizations around the juke box, sudden outbursts of violence
and the throwaway style of performance it remained an abstract
thing, heavily indebted to the American theatre, and lacking
native authenticity. And it is hard not to feel that the group
have been introduced in altogether too calculated an opposition
to the shy, vulnerable girl.
Lewis invades the cloistered calm
of the record shop and undertakes Charlotte's education. He has
no motive for doing so; has no initial information about her
and no means of knowing that her father is ill. Their dialogue,
spasmodically effective though it is, takes place too openly
at the dramatist's convenience. They tell each other what it
is desirable that the audience should know. And when, in the
end, Lewis is led away by the police there is a double dissatisfaction,
that the essential theme should have been put into the background,
and that the interloper should have failed to fire the writer's
Often brilliant visually and
in its use of music, the production was exciting whenever Mr
Alan Bates was on the screen. His broodingly lonely and savage
performance of Lewis gave the part a profundity never suggested
by the lines alone. |||
A note about Armchair Theatre:
Armchair Theatre came in several guises. Called simply
'Armchair Theatre', it played weekly on the network. In
the Midlands and the North, it was billed as 'ABC Armchair Theatre',
after its makers, the Associated-British Picture Corporation,
which also produced "The Avengers". As the plainer-named
'Armchair Theatre', it continued for many years under ABC's post-1968
London outlet, Thames.
The series, in any guise, was a different
drama with different actors every week, and was the most popular
ABC programme after 'The Avengers'. |||